Mugshot March continues with an ugly, mysterious case. There isn’t a lot of detail available.

In 1916, 21-year-old Van Wilson had murder on his mind. His target was Frank Snedigar, a farmer living near Madisonville in Pike County, about 10 miles north of Vandalia.

Wilson shot and killed Mr. Snedigar immediately, but he also spotted his wife, and decided to kill her too. Mrs. Snedigar ran into her home and managed to hide her two small children, ages 8 and 4, behind a bookcase before Wilson entered the house and shot her.

Before the tragedy, Frank Snedigar had sensed trouble, and had even asked a friend to help smooth the trouble between him and Hiram Wilson, Van’s father.

Van Wilson


The trial was held in Pike County, and Wilson’s attorneys defended him on grounds of insanity. The jury didn’t buy it. They convicted Van Wilson of first degree murder, and the judge sentenced the defendant to natural life. A curious note in the Ralls County Record reads: “Wilson is related to some of the best people in Ralls County. His parents are among the most highly respected people of the vicinity in which the murder was committed. They have the sympathy of all in their affliction.”

His sentence officially began December 8, 1916, and was punctuated by long stays at Fulton Asylum for the Insane.

July 6, 1918: Transfered to Fulton Hospital for the Insane

January 10, 1922: Returned to the Missouri penitentiary

February 7, 1924: Transfer to Fulton Hospital for the Insane

September 4, 1924: Returned to the Missouri penitentiary

March 30, 1925: Transfer to Fulton Hospital for the Insane

November 30, 1926: Returned to the Missouri penitentiary

In December 1942, Van Wilson, now 47, was discharged from the Missouri penitentiary by Governor Stark

Fulton Asylum, Missouri

Mugshot March continues with the case of Mr. Alonzo Dowell. Dowell was no stranger to trouble. He was a career thief and in 1924, he was convicted of robbing Mrs. W. Arthur Stickney near her residence, and stealing $17,000 in jewels.

This gives one pause: if you take inflation into account, this woman was wearing over $260,000 in jewelry. I’m not trying to judge her. I’m as guilty as anyone else of adorning myself in priceless jewels before taking an afternoon stroll, but it does seem a little much. 

Back to Mr. Dowell. It turned out, robbing Mrs. Stickney wasn’t a totally out of character thing for him to do. While in court, he also pleaded guilty to two charges of second-degree burglary, that had been committed in 1923. In the first instance, he had stolen $30, and in the other he had taken $479.

The St. Louis judge was not happy with Dowell’s improved criminal performance, and handed him a heavy sentence: 50 year and 1 day in the Missouri State Penitentiary, which included a five year sentence for each prior burglary.

Dowell’s luck had not completely run out: he was paroled on November 13, 1939.

He remained free for two years and two months, when his parole was revoked for reasons unknown, and he returned to the penitentiary in February 1942. Alonzo Dowell died in prison on March 3, 1947.

Yes, indeed, Mugshot March is back! Here to kick it off for us are Harry and Arthur Defenbaugh, of Peoria, Illinois.

The brothers had been in and out of trouble. Burglary was their specialty. After serving some time, they were paroled in 1922, and finally seemed to be settling down. Arthur, age 23, and Harry, age 27, had taken up carpentry work. Harry also got married to a woman named Ruth. But appearances can be deceiving; the brothers had also joined a small gang that was committing a series of burglaries in Benton County, Missouri.

On September 21, 1924, the brothers were back at it in Warsaw, Missouri. They and three other gang members successfully robbed the Missouri Pacific station, before moving on to Luttman Hardware. But things went awry.

The papers were unimpressed with the Defenbaughs’ hijinx


While the gang was in the store, Sheriff Garrett Groomer entered and called out to the men, stating his intention to arrest them. That seems like a very dangerous approach, and it didn’t work out so well for the sheriff. Some gang members responded to the sheriff’s orders by opening fire on him — who specifically fired was in dispute. It didn’t matter to Sheriff Groomer, who had been killed.

The gang managed to flee the scene but they were apprehended on September 23. The police were startled by their clothing: the men were dressed like characters in an old western! The press was allowed in to photograph the gang in their costumes, and the picture was subsequently run on the front page of the paper.

The brothers are in the front row, on the left and in the middle.


As the local paper explained:

“When the five youths were picked up here, four wore green or white sombrero hats with wide brims, colored flannel shirts, and snake belts to which they had strapped their revolvers. They said they had made a trip to Colorado, and had brought the cowboy outfits in order to startle their friends when they returned to Peoria.”

While awaiting trial, the Defenbaughs managed to briefly escape from jail, which did not endear them to authorities.

The brothers were tried and convicted of Sheriff Groomer’s murder together, and received life sentences. Their mugshots were taken the same day and show how closely they resembled one another. Even their inmate numbers are sequential: Harry was 27462 and Arthur was 27463.

The Brothers Defenbaugh


The Defenbaugh brothers were extraordinarily close. They were not twins but they may as well have been conjoined because it seems to have been impossible for one to do something without the other. They committed crimes together, went on the run together, broke out of jail together, and finally served hard time together. They were in for a long stay at the Missouri State Penitentiary. They were paroled together by Governor Donnell on April 2, 1942. They left prison after serving seventeen and a half years for Groomer’s murder.

In a heroic little side note, after her husband’s murder, Mrs. Groomer took on the duties of sheriff. Their oldest son, Alvin, was deputized. You have to admire that kind of spirit and courage!